A robust debate about housing, traffic and parks at the Kids and Candidates forum

  • (L-R) Katherine Lee, Andrea Lofthouse-Quesada, USC moderator Tom Hollihan, and Adele Andrade-Stadler engage in a lively discussion about Alhambra’s most pressing issues at the Kids and Candidates event. Only three of the invited seven City Council candidates accepted the invitation. Photo by Bastian Mendez.

  • Alhambra High School students introduce the Kids and Candidates forum. Photo by Bastian Mendez.

  • Alhambra Unified School District Superintendent Denise Jaramillo introduces the candidates participating in the Kids and Candidates forum. Photo by Bastian Mendez.

  • Andrea Lofthouse-Quesada, candidate for Alhambra City Council's 1st District. Photo by Bastian Mendez.

  • Adele Andrade-Stadler, candidate for Alhambra City Council's 5th District. Photo by Bastian Mendez.

  • Katherine Lee, candidate for Alhambra City Council's 1st District.

Location

Alhambra , CA United States

The main event Thursday night at the Kids and Candidates Forum at Alhambra High School was a political discussion with Katherine Lee and Andrea Lofthouse-Quesada, both running for the 1st District City Council seat and Adele Andrade-Stadler, running for the 5th District. Candidates Suzi Dunkel-Soto, Laura Tellez-Gagliano, Ross Maza and Julian Reyes declined to participate.

But there was plenty of activity before the free-wheeling exchange took place. Outside the school gates, a small group held up signs protesting against Dunkel-Soto, City Council candidate for Alhambra’s 5th District. According to documents filed with the City of Alhambra, a Chicago-based National Association of Realtors Fund spent $28,473.73 in online ads and mailers for her campaign.

In the school courtyard, the Alhambra High School jazz band performed before the debate and various school clubs conducted fundraising bake sales. There was a voter registration table,, a petition drive for the Vote at 16 campaign, and various local advocacy groups manned tables and described their causes and concerns to the crowd filing into the event.

Inside the auditorium, about 420 residents filled the center section of seats while moderator Tom Hollihan, a communications professor at USC’s Annenberg School posed questions on key issues facing Alhambra including affordable housing, traffic and parks. Many of the questions came from Alhambra High School students. Others included input from a coalition of groups that put on the event including the Alhambra Latino Association, Alhambra Teachers Association, Grassroots Alhambra, the Alhambra Preservation Group and the Alhambra Source.

After a warm greeting from Denise R. Jaramillo, the superintendent of Alhambra’s School District, Hollihan began the evening’s exchange modifying questions for each candidate based on details from previous answers. This process allowed him—and the candidates—to cover a lot of ground as the evening progressed.

Affordable housing

Hollihan opened the forum by reading an Alhambra High School student’s question wondering how each City Council candidate would address the affordability crisis in Alhambra. Both Lofthouse-Quesada and Andrade-Stadler came out in support of Proposition 10, which Andrade-Stadler said would give back local control over solutions like rent stabilization. Lofthouse said that rent control, along with inclusionary housing, were essential in addressing Alhambra’s affordable housing crisis, bringing up the hundreds of complaints that Alhambra was unable to redress and that her students who had to leave the Alhambra Unified School District, because their families could no longer afford rent.

Lee called rent control an option and also called for a public fund to give temporary relief to renters who have been evicted. She also called on the City Council and planning commission to scrutinize new developments to see if they would help renters.

“Traffic in Alhambra is soul-killing”

When it comes to addressing Alhambra’s traffic woes, Andrade-Stadler and Lee mentioned taking the bus. Andrade-Stadler pledged to talk with Metro to get more buses into Alhambra and advocated for more investment in the city buses. Lee said that wait times needed to be addressed, as did putting more stops in more residential areas like Alhambra Road. When Hollihan asked about connecting Alhambra to light-rail stations, Andrade-Stadler advocated for using Measure R money to build transit hubs surrounded by housing, like in Pasadena. Lofthouse-Quesada discussed something similar, saying that the money exists, but that the political will had to be there for a transit hub to get built.

Lofthouse-Quesada advocated for getting cars off the road by looking into as many solutions as possible, from scooters to building public transit around the “first mile last mile” approach. When Hollihan asked how the City Council candidates would address concerns about bike lanes taking space away from cars and making roads more dangerous, Lofthouse-Quesada said that explaining to residents why these additions would be necessary, even if that meant that cars would have to slow down on local roads, was essential. When it comes to pedestrian safety, Andrade-Stadler discussed activating the city’s traffic commission to install lights, crosswalks and other traffic controls, while Lee called on the Alhambra Police Department to increase their patrols of dangerous intersections.

Historic preservation

Hollihan read a questions from Alhambra High School student Brian Wu about how the City Council candidates would preserve Alhambra’s historic neighborhoods, especially with mansionization and renovations that clash with a home’s existing architectural style occurring in the city. Lofthouse-Quesada said she supports a historic preservation ordinance, to protect the many different architectural styles present in Alhambra, with a special shoutout to mid-century modern architecture. Andrade-Stadler also expressed support for this, while Lee said she supported a preservation ordinance, but wanted protections for owners to make safety upgrades or other changes to their property. Lofthouse-Quesada agreed with this, arguing for more zoning exceptions to be made for residents, as they are for developers. All candidates supported an inventory of historic homes in Alhambra and building accessory dwelling units to address the city’s housing crisis.

Hollihan also asked about instituting a Mills Act program in Alhambra, where homeowners would get tax breaks for preserving historic homes. Andrade-Stadler said she supported a program, while Lee expressed caution about giving too many tax breaks to certain property owners over those who didn’t own historic homes. Lofthouse-Quesada said that the city already gives tax breaks, why shouldn’t individual homeowners benefit from that as well?

Parks

When it comes to increasing green space in a park-poor city like Alhambra, all of the participating candidates advocated for converting Alhambra’s golf course into park space. Lee and Lofthouse-Quesada touted pocket parks as well, with Lofthouse-Quesada plugging From Lots to Spots, a non-profit that turns blighted alleyways and other areas into green space as a route towards that. She expressed the importance of building large-scale parks, while also engaging in smaller scale neighborhood beautification.

Civic engagement in a diverse community

Hollihan’s asked about reaching out to families in Alhambra who may not speak English at home and are unfamiliar with the norms of American democracy and civic life. Lofthouse-Quesada called for translation availability at all City Council meetings, as well as the creation of a cultural affairs department to engage Alhambra’s diverse community through the arts. Andrade-Stadler wanted all immigrant families to be counted in the Census in California, so that they get the resources they need.

Selling Alhambra

When it comes to selling Alhambra’s unique cultural assets to invest businesses and investment, Andrade-Stadler called for more citywide events and support for Mom and Pop shops. Lee wanted to see outreach around Alhambra’s cultural history, including Norman Rockwell’s involvement in the city and more promotion Alhambra’s Historical Society. And Lofthouse-Quesada brought up rent control as a means of keeping artists who couldn’t afford to live in Alhambra in the city, as well as the opening of coffee shops and other cultural gathering points.

If you missed the Kids and Candidates forum stay tuned for our podcast recording of the entire discussion!

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